Father God, we thank you that we can arise as a church because our ultimate leader is not me, but Jesus Christ himself. We pray this morning that you would unite us in him, clothe us with his armour, fill us with his Spirit and guide us by your word. We pray this in his precious name. Amen.
Well please do take a seat, grab a Bible and turn back to that reading from Titus chapter 1. Once you've found it I'd like to ask you to do something else for me. I'd like you to imagine – just for a moment – that on my way to work tomorrow morning I get run down by a bus. Now let me instantly reassure you that this is not something I'm planning on happening, and apologise for what I'm sure has to be one of the most morbid starts to a sermon ever. And possibly the most gory too, depending on just how seriously you took my invitation to imagine this bus related incident. But let's just say I keel over tomorrow and get to go and be with Jesus… how will the church set about replacing me as the Minister here? What kind of person should we be looking for to lead the church?
Well as you'll have already figured out, our subject for this morning is leadership in the church and in particular how leaders in the church should be chosen. And if the thought of that has you starting to drift off to your happy place or hunker down for a quick 40 winks – let me say that this isn't just a sermon for me, or Jonathan Redfearn, or Ben, or anyone who is thinking about a career in the church. Not at all! What we're going to be covering should also apply to anyone in leadership within the church like those leading a Midweek group, or one of the Women's Bible Study groups, or those leading in the Children's and Youth Groups and Clubs that happen this morning or through the week.
Even if you're not any of those things, don't be so quick to breathe a sigh of relief. We may not all be leaders or even hope to be leaders at some point in the future – in fact some of us here wouldn't even call ourselves Christians, let alone Christian leaders – but we must all choose our leaders. We must all ask:
- Whose advice is worth taking seriously?
- Whose example will we follow?
And so we all need to know what genuine, caring, trustworthy, God-ordained (or God-approved) leadership looks like – so that we don't get taken in by false leaders unapproved of by God. That's why we've got our Bibles open at Titus chapter 1. We find there that the Bible isn't silent over what to do if I come to a sticky end, or Chris Redfearn is looking for new Youth and Children's work leaders. For in it, the Apostle Paul who was appointed as a leader in the church by Jesus Christ himself (that's after all what an Apostle is!) has in turn appointed Titus to not only lead, but to appoint more church leaders. Do you see that there in verse 5?
"This is why I left you in Crete [writes Paul to Titus], so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you…"
So the big question is obviously: what sort of people should Titus be looking for as he seeks to appoint more church leaders? I asked my children the other day what they thought made a good leader – I wonder how you would answer that question? Well one of my kids answered: "Brave and Bald". "Bald??!!" I said. It seems it was a slip of the tongue, but it did make me wonder about whether I should resign. Although I must admit that as my hairline recedes and the rich tea biscuit on top of my head grows more and more every year – I seem to be well on track to meet this shiny headed qualification.
But Paul tells Titus that the key qualification for leadership is unsurprisingly not baldness, but instead – and here's the headline: Leaders must be Above Reproach
- Verse 6: "if anyone is above reproach…"
- Verse 7: "For an overseer, as God's steward must be above reproach."
You see God doesn't value what we often value. He doesn't prioritise a dynamic personality or education or social status. Nor does he even prioritise exceptional speaking or leadership or spiritual gifts in the choosing of his leaders. Or even have a full head of hair! Rather the most important quality leaders must have, in God's eyes, is being "above reproach". That doesn't mean that they are without fault. No one but Jesus is perfect this side of heaven! Instead being "above reproach" means that leaders need to check their life for no obvious glaring area of weakness. They must have a good reputation, against which no serious accusation can be made. And there are three areas in particular that leaders need to be "above reproach".
1. Leaders must be Above Reproach in their Private Life (v.6)
Check out Titus 1.6 – Paul tells Titus to look for:
"anyone [who] is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination."
A friend of mine I used to work with in leading Christian Union groups in Universities and Colleges used to say that the way to spot whether someone was ready for leadership was to see what their home life was like. So he used to visit students in their flats and watch how they got on with their flatmates, and check out the state of their kitchen or their bedroom. I tell you it slightly freaked me out to be honest. But he wasn't often wrong! And the Apostle Paul would agree! Essentially he is telling Titus here that you can tell a lot about someone's leadership capabilities by checking out their home or private life.
"One wife" in verse 6 – simply means a 'one-woman man'. That's the literal translation of the original language. So you don't necessarily need to be married to be a leader in the church – after all Paul wasn't married and neither was Jesus! No, what this means is that whether someone is married or not, what is being required of them is absolute faithfulness. They should have their love life, their sex life, under God's control. Those who are married should be committed to one wife, for life - doing everything they can to build a strong and healthy marriage: caring for their wife, seeking the flourishing of her relationship with God, the growth of her character and the use of her gifts. And above all else he must be faithful to her in only ever having sex with her.
Those who are single should see themselves as married to Christ alone and be sexually celibate out of faithfulness to him alone. Now that might come as a bit of a shock to you if you're unaware of the Bible's teaching on sex and relationships. But God is good and his ways for us are for our best, so please make sure and be in church next term when we look at that issue more fully as we tackle 1 Corinthians 5 & 6.
But whether single or married – God's leaders shouldn't be known for being sexually loose, or even being a 'bit of a flirt'. Neither should they allow themselves to be distracted from God's standards by wasting their time and energies on the abusive fantasy world of cyber-sex. Because if you can't discipline yourself to pursue God's best plan for your sex life – how are you going to encourage anyone else to learn the discipline necessary to follow God's ways themselves? And discipline is at the heart of Paul's command to look for – verse 6 again, those whose:
"…children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination."
And before we disqualify from leadership anyone with children who from time to time are disobedient – that would thin our leadership teams out a bit, wouldn't it? – I need to say that this refers to children before they reach adulthood and leave the family home. Yet while young children are in the family home under the authority of their parents how they behave is a reflection on their parents. Although there are of course exceptions – generally speaking children's behaviour is a reason to say: 'Well is this person gifted in leadership? Are they already taking a lead in the home?'
Now as I say, this doesn't discount those who are single. But it's a good principle when considering appointing those who are unmarried to check whether they have proved themselves in some other leadership position first. So if we can't look at someone's leadership of a family, we need to ask: 'Have they been able to lead a Youth or Children's Group in a way that people responded and in some way at least obeyed?'
- Was it a riot of chaos?
- Or were they respected and able to exercise the discipline necessary to help the group thrive?
Folks, our culture seems to think that we can drive a wedge between the private and the public life of our leaders. But we all know that we can put our game face on for going out in public, but what people see in private is the real you. And if the people who know you the best don't have any respect for you – why should the people you lead in church respect you? Or might I add… in school, or the hospital, or the office or wherever else it is that you might take a lead in your public life!
If you are in any leadership position in life do not be a hypocrite and neglect to invest in your home life first and lay the foundations of your leadership qualities. Because if you're proud and overbearing at home – you will bring that into your leadership. Or if you shirk responsibility at home, you will most likely shirk responsibility whether in the church or elsewhere. You see, what Paul is saying is this: that one of the key signs of how effective a leader you're going to be, is what your home life is like. I wonder, would those who you live with recommend you for leadership based on what they see of you at home?
Now here's the second thing Paul tells Titus to look for in leaders:
2. Leaders must be Above Reproach in their Character and Conduct (v.7-8)
Let's dive back into Titus 1 at verses 7-8:
"For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined."
The message here is that not only can't you be trusted to manage the church if you can't manage your own home life. But you also cannot be trusted to be in control of the church, if you can't control yourself. And the person failing to control their appetites for the vices of verse 7 – pride, anger, drink, aggressiveness, or greed – is not only going to get a bad name for God's work, but they're also going to be a useless leader of people. Why? Because who wants to be led by someone who lives to follow their own desires? Answer: No one.
We all want to be led by people who take an interest in us and inspire us. They are – verse 8: "hospitable" – they always welcome us in a way that makes us feel special and valued. They are "a lover of good" – and they love to do us good, even if it's at their expense. And they are to inspire us – they set standards in holiness and self-discipline, not in a way that makes us think 'oh, what a dweeb', but in a way that makes us think: 'Ah you know what? I wish I was more like that.'
God's leaders should aim to be above reproach in their character and conduct because they have been made – verse 7 – "God's steward". A steward means one who manages the affairs of another. It is a word which essentially paints a picture of a church leader as the manager of God's household. And I believe that one of the greatest things a leader needs is a tremendous sense of being an unworthy servant. Any leader in the church, not least an elder or overseer in the church should constantly be asking, 'Who am I, Lord, that you should have made me a steward of your own people?'
This isn't like being made milk monitor after all – this is a calling to do God's work! To look after God's own people! It's an eternal work that far outweighs any responsibility known to man! Therefore, we must not tarnish God's reputation, but inspire others to see God's goodness and grace through our character and conduct.
I wonder how precious God's reputation is to you? Will you live for it and model it to others? And will you teach it to others? That's the third and final thing that Paul tells Titus to look for:
3. Leaders must be Above Reproach in their Belief and Teaching (v.9)
As the 'elder' or 'overseer' – which by the way are simply interchangeable titles for the same role of church leader – they must also, verse 9:
"…hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it."
What's makes for a successful church? Big numbers? Being friendly and welcoming? Being active in caring for each other and meeting the needs of the community? Fun activities for children and young people? Good coffee? Well I hope we have all those things – but if God's word the Bible is not at the centre of everything we do as a church, we're not going to hear God speak and we will be led astray. That's what was happening in Crete where Titus was. Look at verses 10 and 11 – False teachers were giving a false message that was "upsetting [or more literally 'overturning'] whole families".
That is why Paul says to Titus that leaders must hold firmly to the trustworthy message of the Bible as it had been taught. It had been passed down from the Lord Jesus to the Apostles. And those chosen Apostles of Christ through their teaching in the New Testament then handed it down to the next generation and from generation to generation ever since in a gospel relay that sees the message, or baton if you like, now handed down to us in our day. I don't know if you've ever watched the relay races in the Olympics – but if you have, you will know just how often the baton gets dropped. Especially it seems to me by our British relay teams. What is it with us? We have such butter fingers! But folks, as Christians we are not to drop the baton. Nor are we to halfway round chuck it away and get another one, or make adjustments to it. The Bible's message is the one baton that you start with. It has been revealed to Jesus' Apostles and we are to receive it… and pass it on to others. And leaders in the church must be men and women who especially hold onto it firmly (verse 9)…
"…so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it."
That's the task. How is it that people come to put their trust in Jesus in the first place? As the gospel, good news is proclaimed! If you're not a Christian, you will never become a Christian unless someone tells you that God loves you very much. He sent his son Jesus to die for you that you might be forgiven. And Jesus rose from the dead and is alive. There is a living Lord. He is saying: 'Come to me. Put your trust in me.'
- And unless you hear that message you could never come to Christ in the first place.
- And unless you keep hearing that message and working out its implications for life from the rest of the Bible… you will never grow into the godly life that Jesus wants for you.
So the Christian leader's chief responsibility is to encourage others by "sound" – which means healthy, or health-giving – "doctrine" or teaching.
That's why as soon as I was ordained, the Bishop gave me just one thing... a Bible. And the symbolism is profound. This is the only tool you need for the job: The Bible. Hold onto it... Study it... Teach it. I could fill my time with lots of good things, but never teach you the Bible. And so the good could very easily become the enemy of the best. But I can only lead you this morning by serving you God's word with all my confidence in what He has to say, rather than in my own wisdom or gift of the gab.
So, please could you encourage and pray for me. As well as for Jonathan Redfearn and Ben that we will be leaders who are above reproach…
- In our private lives
- In our character and conduct
- And in our belief and teaching
But let me also encourage you to aspire to these things as every Christian should. As it is my prayer that God would be making us a church where everyone takes God's word seriously enough to put it into practice in their life that they would be qualified to take a lead for Him, whether in the church or outside it.